Published Jun 20, 2013Prior to Tim Hetherington's Oscar nomination for his documentary, Restrepo, which chronicled a year in the life of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the British photographer had already made quite a name for himself. Having attained critical acclaim for his photographs of war-torn countries and his ability to capture the benevolence that exists behind the atrocities of war, Hetherington was known for standing both behind and in front of the lens in times of crisis.
Hetherington paid the ultimate price for this passion, being killed in Misrata, Libya on April 20, 2011 by a mortar attack. Incredibly, he was in Hollywood just seven weeks prior, walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
Sebastian Junger (colleague and co-director of Restrepo) chronicles the exploits and life of his long-time friend in Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, an artful memoriam to a man that braved dangerous situations to capture the incredible moments so rarely caught on film.
Junger, who clearly has close ties to the material, given his past connection to Hetherington, compiled a lengthy collection of interviews from Hetherington's parents, girlfriend and a slew of colleagues from over the years to provide an overview of the film's principle subject. Through these interviews and an assortment of archival videos shot of the man in action and some videos shot by Hetherington himself, it becomes apparent that he wanted to get to the root of the stories that were being shown to the rest of the world on the nightly news. He wanted to capture the face of humanity.
As Junger's pedagogical documentary builds to Hetherington's subsequent death in Libya, he chooses to stop short of overselling the emotional punch, instead highlighting the accolades he achieved in his 40 short years of life. Hetherington's talent, or boldness, in the face of adversity is never in doubt; however, given that all humans have flaws, a less hagiographic portrayal might have balanced the film and added some identifiable flare. It is an understandable omission though, given that Junger created this as an homage to his dear friend.
While Which Way underscores the perils he endured in his line of work, the film does little to illuminate precisely why people like Hetherington and Junger are drawn to such a life-threatening profession. The movie postulates that they're "adrenaline junkies" and that they truly believe their work is intended for the greater good, but there's a complete absence of psychological assessment that might have gone a long way to further explain Hetherington's constant need to place himself in the front line battlefields.
Which Way is well-assembled and a fascinating viewing experience for those interested in humanitarianism and the perils of war. The showcase of Hetherington's body of photographic work demonstrates a side of war that many in the Western world have likely never seen. Junger's doc eloquently shows the tragedy of conflict and the equal tragic loss of a solid visual artist in his 80-minute tribute to Hetherington, although there is a feeling of shortcoming. (Mongrel Media)